Abhay Deol is back, and how: With all-new film slate, actor jokes he's battling an 'early mid-life crisis'
Close friend , filmmaker Aanand L Rai once described Abhay Deol as a 'lazy talented actor'. With seven new films in the works, Abhay Deol shows the 'lazy' bit is definitely a misnomer.
The first time I interviewed Abhay Deol was back in 2009, just days before the release of Dev.D. Many consider that contemporary interpretation of Devdas to be Deol’s breakthrough performance, after notable roles in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., Manorama Six Feet Under and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Not as many recall that he was also the original writer of the reimagined story of the hedonistic and imploding Dev, that resulted in Anurag Kashyap’s noir film.
Deol went on, one might say unsteadily, to establish himself. He was pinned the ambassador of independent cinema and lauded for championing the new-wave middle-of-the-road Indian cinema. Road, Movie (2009), Aisha, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Shanghai and Happy Bhaag Jayegi are some of Deol’s most admired films, with the last being two years ago.
During that 2009 interview, he said he would like to be an actor with “universal appeal”. This year, with something close to five films in a variety of genres — and languages — stacking up for release, Deol seems to have universality in his sights.
Encouraged by a new management team, Deol has drawn out a fresh blueprint. He says he has recognised a pattern in his career where he worked fervently and then retreated for a year returning with a fresh basket of work and retreating again. However, now he wishes to work uninterrupted, for the next few years at least.
The tally begins with Nanu Ki Jaanu (releasing April 20), a horror-comedy about a ghost who falls in love with a crook. Sounds quirky, right? “It’s definitely quirky,” says Deol. “Horror-comedy is not a mix you normally see and it's really tough to do, in that sense. Even though the genre is niche, the execution of the film is not. Like Devdas in Dev.D where contemporising a mainstream character for Bollywood made him edgier and more original. This is also mainstream and the genre lends it a quirky quality.”
Deol admits that the pattern to his life has mostly allowed him to maintain a work-life balance. “It was not planned, but after these many years of doing the same thing, I can see there is a pattern. I get my head into work and that's all I do for a certain period of time. Then I like to get my head out of work, and that's all I like to do for a certain period of time. I guess that's my way of balancing things,” he says.
But for the past one year it’s been all systems go with no breather for another three years. “I just decided forget everything else — forget personal life, forget any kind of life other than a work life. Why? Maybe it’s an early mid-life crisis?” says the 42 year old.
Besides Nanu Ki Jaanu, there’s JL 50, American production The Field, Tamil film Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kathai, two films – Salat and The Odds — that are yet to begin, and a couple more that are awaiting official announcements. He’s also got a cameo in Zero.
Speaking of this new phase of films, Deol says he finds himself in same the headspace he was in around 2007-2009. “It’s the same space mentally and the same environment as when I was doing Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, Manorama Six Feet Under, Oye Lucky… and Dev.D, where I just went for it and took chances. In this next batch, there are English, Hindi and Tamil language films, there are commercial and experimental movies, at least four solo films for me and around five films with debuting directors.”
The actor, who made his debut with Socha Na Tha in 2005, and tried his hand at production with One By Two (2014), is clearly more compliant now. Seated in the producer’s office, Deol he is prepared for the battery of questions — some predictable, some uncomfortable — that are going to be lobbed at him throughout this day of film promotions. He’s aware that people have often misunderstood him to be aloof, arrogant and even lazy and that his stand on various issues sometimes need clarifying.
His friend and director Aanand L Rai (Raanjhanaa, Zero) once described Deol as “a lazy talented actor”. When asked to comment on this, Deol takes a beat and says, “There are times when I am really lazy, but there are also times when I am working my butt off. It's situational. Aanand is not wrong, because I can be that way. But am I only that? No. I wish he had been on the sets of Happy Bhaag Jayegi (which Rai produced) because I was anything but lazy on that one.
“Aanand and I have a good rapport and I can be whatever I want to be in front of him and I know he wouldn't judge. I am so comfortable with him, in fact, that I can definitely be lazy around him.”
In this Twitter bio, Deol describes himself as “politically incorrect”. His stand on issues ranging from the ethics of film awards to the misleading nature of advertising around fairness creams has earned him bouquets and brickbats.
Deol says he will react if provoked, but he realises that confrontation does not lead to any result. “You have to work with people. You have to work with the enemy, if there is such a thing as an enemy. Confrontation will only make them defensive. On the fairness cream thing, I was using humour to get a little bit of an insight. I wasn't trying to make a huge noise. I was trying to somehow bring about awareness through humour. Some people got it, some did not. But the main thing is that it got reported and at least some of those brands changed their language and their tack. As long as something positive can come out of a confrontation, I will do it. But sometimes it just puts people on the defensive, and I come across as the person being offensive,” he says.
Ask him if there is room and respect for strong opinions and for the opinionated in Bollywood, and Deol replies that he doesn’t believe there is. “Having opinions is difficult in this industry because then they think you are opinionated. As long as you are aware of your opinions, it's fine to have them. If you are aware of them, you will share them and you will also be open to being told whether your opinions work or not. How else are you supposed to learn? I called out the awards for their hypocrisy but I don't think that went down well. However, I don't think there is any need for me to do that any more. I have taken my stands and I stand by them. I have done what I can, you know, and now it's time to just work.”
Happy with his career graph and future endeavours, which include presenting and promoting independent films such as Labour of Love and Leeches, Deol has also decided to partner with films as an independent producer. He has come on board Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kathai in that capacity. “I am thankful that so many people are supportive of me and there’s an audience that likes me for my work. I am thankful for the privilege,” he says.
Believing that it’s increasingly difficult to be politically incorrect or confrontational in today’s world, Deol wishes to take a leaf out of the Dalai Lama's book. He says, “I want to try being more compassionate, because that seems to be the only way to be somewhat grounded in the head, in life and in the mind.”
This thought could well be the text for Abhay Deol’s revised Twitter bio.
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